Older Women, Younger Men: A Short-Term Trend or a New Definition of Relationship?

In this post, I’d like to explore a few different aspects of relationships between older women and younger men.

For many people, the first thing they think of is the term cougar.  Courteney Cox brought this term into the mainstream with the title of her TV show, Cougar Town.  As a relationship specialist, I was very interested in seeing this show when it first began, but I’m sad to say I was very disappointed.  Rather than tackle any real issues of substance that these kinds of couples face, the show was just another superficial comedy.

In a New York Times article by Sarah Kershaw back in 2009, she wrote about “Rethinking the Older Woman-Younger Man Relationship”.   “The term cougar raises hackles among women who say the image of a wild animal, however sleek and beautiful, prowling for victims – or an army of Mrs. Robinsons on the march for men young enough to be their sons – is demeaning.”  Demi Moore who was married to fellow actor Ashton Kutcher for many years, was often described as a cougar, but so have sex-starved women slinking through bars for young men to satisfy nothing but physical needs.

Director Sam Taylor and Actor Aaron Johnson have a 23 year age gap in their relationship

Director Sam Taylor and Actor Aaron Johnson have a 23 year age gap in their relationship

Ms. Kershaw gives us many more details about cougars, from the Urban Dictionary definition to what sociologists are saying.

I believe that the time has come for all of us to recognize the value in these kinds of relationships.  Older women have lots of life experience, are often more financially secure and have achieved many of their professional goals.  They don’t need a man to take care of them; they can take care of themselves.  Younger men appreciate and respect that, and also often feel that these women can teach them much about life.  The older women appreciate the enthusiasm and spontaneity of younger men, who often pull them along to try new things and take risks they might otherwise not take.  They also are usually less competitive with women than equal or older age men tend to be.  This is from my experience as a therapist working with these kinds of couples.

In her web site EmpowHER, Pink Wrangler states that a young man, Michael, 28, when questioned about why he was attracted to older women said, ” women in their twenties are a) quite boring, b) quite unintelligent, c) only wanting to settle down into some kind of marriage situation, and d) really not bringing much to the table.”  She then asked him the top three things that appealed to him about older women.  His response -“Sexually, they know specifically what they want.  That helps a younger cub that is not necessarily inexperienced but may lack direction and confidence in terms of how to please a woman.  A younger woman in her twenties probably doesn’t know herself or what she likes so she wouldn’t be able to communicate it”.

These kinds of relationships can work – they just may take more effort than many traditional relationships.  Also, the men and women need to understand what they are likely to have to deal with.  Friends, family and society may make things difficult, trying to make them feel guilty or wrong for caring about someone when there is a large age difference. 

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Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon

Many celebrities have made these relationships work.  Check out Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, 11-year age difference, or Robin Wright and X-Men actor Ben Foster, 14-year difference.  There’s Tina Turner and Erwin Bach, 16 year difference, Hugh Jackman and Deborah-Lee Furness, 13 years apart.  There are many more, including lots of briefer relationships that Hollywood’s A-list actresses such as Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Anniston have had. They claim that the relationships broke up for reasons other than the age difference.

Based on the couples I have worked with as well as lots of new data, I believe that the older woman – younger man is going to become a much more common and accepted kind of serious and committed relationship and is here to stay.

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